The Lumber Room

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Posts Tagged ‘1024

My “megabyte” rant

with 7 comments

Read this.

Quoting from the NIST site:

Once upon a time, computer professionals noticed that 2^10 was very nearly equal to 1000 and started using the SI prefix “kilo-” to mean 1024. That worked well enough for a decade or two because everybody who talked kilobytes knew that the term implied 1024 bytes. But, almost overnight a much more numerous “everybody” bought computers, and the trade computer professionals needed to talk to physicists and engineers and even to ordinary people, most of whom know that a kilometer is 1000 meters and a kilogram is 1000 grams.

Then data storage for gigabytes, and even terabytes, became practical, and the storage devices were not constructed on binary trees, which meant that, for many practical purposes, binary arithmetic was less convenient than decimal arithmetic. The result is that today nobody knows what a megabyte is. When discussing computer memory, most manufacturers use megabyte to mean 2^20 = 1 048 576 bytes, but the manufacturers of computer storage devices usually use the term to mean 1 000 000 bytes. Some designers of local area networks have used megabit per second to mean 1 048 576 bit/s, but all telecommunications engineers use it to mean 10^6 bit/s. And if two definitions of the megabyte are not enough, a third megabyte of 1 024 000 bytes is the megabyte used to format the familiar 90 mm (3 1/2 inch), “1.44 MB” diskette. The confusion is real, as is the potential for incompatibility in standards and in implemented systems.

Really, please just read this.


  2. Mathew Somebody, A plea for sanity
  3. Markus Kuhn, Standardized units for use in information technology
  4. Wikipedia, Binary prefixes
  5. Pidgin, my tiny contribution :-)
  6. Random forum, my probably pointless contribution

Written by S

Tue, 2007-10-30 at 06:32:12